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I’ve had a fairly productive time of it pinhole photography-wise. Whether it all works is another issue all together though! (This is particularly true of my infra red pinhole photography, were I attach to the front of my camera the IR filter, and it doesn’t always work).
Back in May, on a very wet Sunday morning I met Alex Howick from BBC Radio Derbyshire to talk about pinhole photography. It was so bad, that for the sake of speeding things along I switched to Ilford HP5, an ISO 400 film, instead of persevering with Pan 50, which is a much slower film (and the exposure would have taken for ages….). In the end, the exposure below was 15 seconds. You can hear my interview from 11 minutes and 20 seconds on https://soundcloud.com/alexhowick-1/oldfashioned . It was great to have chat and share my enthusiasm for pinhole photography, so much so, that I think I went on for about 40 minutes!
For our holidays this year we took Diggy our trusty campervan to the Outer Hebrides. The Outer Hebrides, of Canna, North and South Uist, Benbecula, Harris and Lewis have always been a place I have wanted to visit having been on exercise with the TA on Lewis and Harris in my late teens.
The islands are a step back in time, a slower pace with of life. Not the way of life sketched out in Paul Strand’s “Tir A’Mhurain”, but still not that far removed; the peat is still cut for the hearth and shops are still shut on Sundays. Many people still own and manage crofts, which are traditional small holdings, others are left to become derelict.
The geography of the islands is varied from the open space of the Uists, to the almost Scandinavian feel of Harris to the more recognisable Highland look of Lewis.
Some of these images work, but a lot don’t and I don’t know why. I was particularly disappointed in my Callanish shots, as it was for me the highlight of the visit (despite the surprising crowds). Nor do I understand why the “croft” picture worked, but the “cottage” picture didn’t, despite being on the same roll and taken minutes apart under the same light. As mentioned I rubber band my filter to the camera, but I’m looking at buying a smaller filter that I could fix/wedge/bluetac inside the camera box behind the aperture – that way all light will come in via the filter and I won’t have to faff around with keeping the filter in place – which might mean for a more even negative.
The highlight of the trip photographically was that of an abandoned croft on Skye near Staffin. The horse just makes this photograph, and I have to say I think it is my best pinhole photograph to date and it compliments my Ties to the Land Pinhole Photography project well. I think I just need to have horse with me for every shot I take now :) Also, for this shot, I switched to Ilford Delta 100 a finer grained film, which may (or may not) have had some bearing on the outcome.
What are photography sketches?
It is something that I struggle with defining, though I do admit to doing it myself (see my previous post). I may ramble a bit, so I apologise now, but please bear with me.
Film photography for me is about slowing the process down – particularity when (like me) you start to wander in to the realms of medium format and now large format photography. That process is slowed down further once you start to get all your kit out; tripod, lightmeter, cable release and pour a cup of coffee.
As a photographer whose main medium is film, for me sketching is going about using a small compact (I use a Canon G15 or indeed my phone) taking photographs of things that interest me without having deploy in to action my heavy weight kit. My sketches are primarily for reference to come back to a location if I have ease of access to a place and know that I can return. particularly if I can visualise a shot, but the conditions aren’t quite right.
Photography sketches are also useful if you are just playing around and don’t want to waste film on something if you are experimenting. You get to see the results in camera, or at home on your PC without the extra “anticipation” of film whilst you wait for the film to be developed. Importantly too, photographic sketching allows for a degree of spontaneity that you don’t necessarily have with larger cameras and equipment (film or otherwise), the Uist shots above, must have been taken in less than 10 minutes.
I purposefully went for a walk on my recent holiday in the Outer Hebrides just with my compact camera to see if I saw things differently without being incumbered with my full kt. Not quite sure if I took anything that different, but I did take more photographs than I would normally. Also, I took less time I feel than I would if I took my full kit with me. Putting set up times to one side, I also tend to take my time when composing my shots – sometimes it involves drinking a full cup of coffee between setup and pressing the shutter!
When does a photograph move beyond being a sketch?
A good question and possibly one that I can’t answer.
Okay, I have to admit it; I am a wee bit of a film snob – with no reason I hasten to add. Just look at my portfolio website – www.alastairrossphotography.co.uk - all the photographs on that are film/slide based. I have taken sketches in the past that I have hesitated over and thought “That would really compliment my portfolio”, but then the best that happens is that it gets added to my blog and not the portfolio site. There is no rhyme nor reason, as Canon Powershot G’s are capable little cameras with all the control (and RAW) functionality of a DSLR, so quality isn’t the issue. A3 sized prints are not an issue with the files that they produce and this is where a bit of a reality check is needed for the “serious amateur” (like myself), is anyone really going to see your work at anything bigger than A3? Is it any less of a photograph because it hasn’t been taken on film – “No” - I (think) is my answer.
There is a large element as well, for me anyway, of feeling like a bit fraud when a shot comes out well when seen and taken in seconds as opposed to going through the full physical and intellectual rigor of a “proper” shot that is measured in minutes. It makes me doubt all the times when I have set up, walked and taken in the area, drunk that cup of coffee and then pressed the shutter. Because of that, does a photographic sketch have less integrity? How I address that I do not know, but it is a feeling that nags me now as I type this.
In conclusion, in writing this I think I have started to address in my own head at least from a quality perspective that a photography sketch is no less of a photograph. However, I still struggle to reconcile in my head how something considered in seconds is of equal merit to something that has been given more than a passing thought.
What are your thoughts on this?
Here’s a (very) wee review I’ve done of one of my latest book acquisitions – “The Pool” by Iain Sargeant
I’ve always admired Iain Sargeant’s work from afar – particularly his “Out of the Ordinary” series of personal work that explores everyday scenes of the urban landscape in Scotland, almost reveling (I feel) in the banal, with a recurring theme of loneliness despite the presence of urban life being everywhere. Iain Sargeant’s latest book is called “The Pool” and is quite far removed from “Out of the Ordinary”, as it focuses solely on a pool no bigger than 2m in width not far from his home – as opposed to the wide ranging travels throughout Scotland that are documented in “Out of the Ordinary”.
Iain has chosen in “The Pool” to use black and white (slightly sepia?) and a very shallow depth of field when photographing the environs of the pool. This adds a very abstract element to the images. Its a very mellow book, the sort that I could imagine gazing through on a rainy afternoon with a malt in my hand sat in a bay window, slowly absorbing the nuance that each photograph contains.
The photos, for me, are very meditative in the understated and thoughtful way of Takeshi Shikama’s “Silent Respiration of Forests” and Bae, Bien-U’s “Sacred Wood”, but on a much smaller and more intimate scale. I can’t describe it any better than this – its the sort of photography that makes my chest tighten and pulse go that little bit quicker as I marvel at the thoughtful approach that Iain has adopted when engaging with what is after all, just a pool.
The book is produced by Triplekite Publishing, a double team in the form of photographers Dav Thomas and David Breen and is available from their site. Dav and David have produced a number of niche photography books in the past year, focusing mainly on landscapes. Their book publishing efforts have been complimented recently with their new “bookzine” “Land | Sea”, which show cases some of the talent that the landscape photography community has to offer.
My Ties to the Land Pinhole Photography Project has a new home – http://tiestotheland.co.uk. I’ll be updating that site more often with progress on the project and new images for it too.
I’ve recently bought a RealitySoSubtle 4×5″ large format pinhole camera – I’ve yet to get my hands on it but it looks like a thing of beauty – have a look for yourself – https://aupremierplan.fr/custom-cameras/realitysosubtle-4×5/. To compliment this, I’ve bought some Efke Aura infra red film – having bemoaned its demise, I have found that 4 x 5 Efke Aura film is “relatively” cheap, so would like to give it one last try before all stocks evaporate. The new camera and the chance to have one last huzzah with Efke Aura will be a fine addition to the project.
Here is one of my latest photographic additions to the project, the impact crater from a World War 2 mortar round on Big Moor in the Derbyshire Peak District.
On Saturday I went to Connected 2014, which is the Nottingham Flickr group’s annual exhibition – but everyone is welcome to join in! It is organised by Rob Knight and Karen Leach (http://www.rkphotographic.com/) and held at Patchings Art Centre near Southwell (and Nottingham).
Above is the photograph I had on display. I was a bit nervous about seeing it, as its the first photograph of mine to be exhibited and I hadn’t printed it – instead it was printed by someone else and I just had to send a soft proofed image across. Having never used soft proofing I was worried that I had created a garish monster of an image, as every time I turned soft proofing off the photograph just looked worse and worse. So it was a small leap of faith when I pressed “Send”. I am glad that I did though, as it does look rather fine up on the wall at Patchings. To see this photograph and others like it in my “Texture and Form” portfolio have a look at my other site.
It was great to catch up with people in real life that I’d only previously “met” on Twitter – for that alone it was worth attending.
There were two talks at Connected, one by Dav Thomas (http://peaklandscapes.com/) and David Baker. Dav’s talk was particularly good, as it covered his approach to becoming unpopular (photographically!). Which perversely led to Dav creating a book with the help of David Breen – http://withtrees.co.uk/. David and Dav are now the duo driving Triple Kite Publishing (http://www.triplekite.co.uk/). The second book that Dav and David produced was David Baker’s “Sea Fever” – http://seafeverbook.co.uk/.
I had the chance to visit the Dinorwic Quarries in North Wales on Good Friday. I wanted to go back there having been in the lower levels of the quarries whilst on a work shop with Richard Childs. Unfortunately due to the weather, we didn’t get a chance to explore the higher reaches of the dinorwic quarries, and with my general lack of fitness it would have taken us sometime as a party to get up there! However on Friday I did (it did take a while).
It should be noted that save for a rather boring path through the quarry the rest of the area is fenced off to varying degrees of rigor and even those areas with razor wire topped fence can be circumvented with a little imagination. So if you do choose to go there having read this, you do so at your on risk etc….
I came across this Google Map of the Dinowric Quarries area that is marked up with what is what – https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msa=0&msid=109915291015428156362.000454917b26c70160baa&dg=feature . It is a really handy guide as to what is what in the area. My goal was the Australia level, where I was told there was a slate cutting workshop with the machinery still largely in place. The lower level workshops have been either knocked down completely or left standing with the machinery removed. As a general principle, the higher up you go in the Dinorwic Quarries, the more there is to find that is intact(ish). There is even a mess room (not on the Australia level) that has coats hanging up on the wall – albeit they have been nibbled as far as a goat can reach. Incidentally, this mess room is “looked after”, in so much as people seem to camp out in it, so the goat/sheep poo that you find many inches deep in other buildings (as I found in this lower level compressor room) is not to be found here.
I’ve included below some processed “sketches” and below that some happy snaps of the place. I also took some pinhole shots of the slate cutting workshop for my project and a “number” of rolls on Velvia, but those will have to go to Peak Imaging for processing – no doubt I will grace these pages with the results of that. As it was really sunny (i.e. shockingly bad for photography) I tended to go in really close for what may be described as more intimate landscapes. On Dinorwic 6 of 7 I was playing with scale and hoping to produce something that didn’t belie its scale – it was only having finished processing it that I realised that there is something in the shot that completely gives it away – can you see it?
Dinorwic Quarries Happy Snaps
If you’re a regular reader of this blog you might know that I have a couple of pinhole photography projects going on. My main focus these past couple months has been my “Ties to the Land” pinhole photography project. There has been a subtle change in approach, instead of coming across scenes that I think will fit the intent of the project, I ‘m now (on the whole) actively seeking out locations that fit the project. The list is growing all the time, but quite how I’m going to get close enough to RAF Menwith Hill with a pinhole camera to do the “golf balls” any justice I’m not quite sure! (If you see me in the news you’ll know why. )
I have had a bit of surge in momentum these past couple of months, but for some reason I’ve been holding back on sharing them like I usually do, not sure why that is the case.
The above photograph is currently the last photo in my planned mini ebook – a sort of “Story so far…”. Its of Formby Beach near Liverpool where a layer of mud has been revealed that contains footprints of all sorts of animals (including humans) dating back to the Neolithic area – some 4,000 years old. Its quite humbling to know that you’re nothing special and that humans have walked this very land long before us and our technology came along. In its own way, that’s why I feel pinhole photography in all its basic-ness lends itself quite well to this project.
I’ve added a good number of new photographs to the project, some using infra red film (as it was sunny last weekend!), please have a visit over at – http://www.alastairrossphotography.co.uk/ties-to-the-land-stonework-pinhole-photography-project/
Two from my recent bimble along Gordale Beck near Malham in the Yorkshire Dales National Park whilst on a workshop with David Ward. Both taken on Velvia using a smart phone to do the metering as I’d forgotten my spot meter (I’m still cross at myself for that!).
You can find more from that day and some other photographs that concentrate on texture and form in my gallery - http://www.alastairrossphotography.co.uk/texture-form/
Here’s one I’m not quite sure about. It was taken in a sheep poo filled plant room in the Dinorwic Quarry above Llanberis in North Wales. I do love the colours but I’m still not sure. I’ve been struggling a bit with my colour film photography having switched from the ever versatile Kodak Portra 400, which I’m told on good authority is the “honey badger” of film to Kodak Portra 160, I just don’t seem to be getting it right.
The reason for the switch from Portra 400 to Portra 160 was purely financial, there is about a £0.50 per roll difference in cost. And whilst not a lot, it does add up, especially when I had the opportunity to buy a lot of film up last September. That said now I’m beginning to doubt myself, is 50p a roll worth it when (I feel) I’m wasting so much film “getting my eye” in with Portra 160?